While our star, the sun, is celebrated in daytime skies of the Northern Hemisphere, marked yesterday by the summer solstice, stars of summer nights are rising early enough to enjoy without staying awake too late.

Even so, on these -- the longest days of the year -- stargazing begins around 9:20 p.m. Around that time, the brightest stars of summertime are above the east and southeast horizon and planets Saturn and Mars, riveted mid-sky in the south and southwest, form a bridge to spring stars in the west to northwest. Constellations -- 88 star patterns, half described more than 2,000 years ago -- are composed of bright and dim stars and so appear gradually as twilight deepens.

From Tuesday through July 1, sunset will be the latest of the year, 8:34. Nightfall occurs at 10:37, when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, known as astronomical twilight.

Beginning close above the southeast skyline with red Antares, see it flash, not merely twinkle, to the eye of the incredulous observer. Antares is convincing as the beating heart of Scorpius the Scorpion. Scorpius is easily recognizable as a scorpion and would be as well-known a summer constellation as Orion is in winter if it climbed the celestial sphere all night, however, in northern reaches, the Scorpion skims the horizon from southeast to southwest, seen only by those who seek it.

At dusk, the loose string of three bright objects about halfway to zenith are, from south to southwest (left to right), planet Saturn, pearl star Spica and golden Mars.


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Spring's quintessential constellation, Leo the Lion, is beyond Mars; its brightest star, Regulus, sets at 11:20 at week's end.

Glancing back to summer stars rising in the east, Altair, close above the skyline to the left of Antares, completes the marking of the great expanse of the Summer Triangle. Brilliant Vega, far above on the right, and dimmer Deneb to the left rose hours before.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to: www.naturesturn.org